As some BTB supporters already know, I recently began a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Australian National University working in the area of cultural anthropology. The focus of the research is: How do current and historical cultures ascribe status to wildlife ‘products’ and what turns them into luxury items? The aim is to understand how this process works; of particular interest is how this knowledge may be utilised to achieve the reverse effect – turning a current luxury item (such as rhino horn) back into something no longer considered a luxury or desirable. This insight can then form the basis for creating demand reduction initiatives.
As part of the initial literature search on the nature of luxury the concept of Magnificence vs. Luxury caught my attention. In its origins, luxury was not a term to describe consumption by elites, but one used to denigrate the aspirational consumer practices of the newly emerging wealthy classes1. In contrast, magnificence is related to the positive uses of wealth, i.e. doing something valuable for the public good. This started me thinking, in recent history (post the industrial revolution), are there examples of magnificence or is all we see self-serving luxury? [Read more…]